Judith Bishop

Interval by Judith Bishop

by
April 2018, no. 400

Judith Bishop’s Interval appears just over a decade since the publication of her first book, also using a one-word title, Event (Salt, 2007). This gap seems far too long. Certainly, there have been two chapbooks in the intervening years – Alice Missing in Wonderland and Other Poems (2008), in the Wagtail series ...

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Bold shades of autumn leaf – or blazing embers’ light,
bright to extinguished, as if fires set
in hearths huddled closely in the dirt were offset
by pallid oceans with their artificial light.
Are the colours fire-signals to a planetary eye
that, like Atlas, feels the weight of earth,

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The far city must make itself known
even here in the sitting room and
barred by winter branches. The skyline

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The far city must make itself known
even here in the sitting room and
barred by winter branches. The skyline ...

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You are seething; I am worried.
We have read the Greek myths.

This anger of yours feels like
a distant thunderclap

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Night’s the ground beneath my feet
since I learned to walk with you.
Scented guide with birds and flowers on your breath,

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I could say hello to things.
Theodore Roethke

i.
The hand’s wave,
when it comes –

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Event by Judith Bishop

by
November 2007, no. 296

In her other life, Judith Bishop works as a linguist. A passionate concern with the intricacies of language, with the visceral effect of words on the tongue, aurally, and as they are knitted and unravelled on the page is manifest in her first collection of poems, Event. These poems are deeply immersed both in a complex observation of, and engagement with, the natural world, in particular with the ways in which poetic language can intervene in the world of perception, experience and desire. ‘You have to lean and listen for the heart / behind the shining paint’, Bishop writes in ‘Still Life with Cockles and Shells’, which won the 2006 ABR Poetry Prize and which Dorothy Porter included in The Best Australian Poems 2006. Like the beautiful illusions of the still-life painting, Bishop’s poetry creates an aesthetic surface which mimics the stasis of death and also harbours the ‘flutter in its flank’, the pulse of possibility visible to the attentive reader–observer. Look closely, her poetry exhorts, yield to the currents of language and image, become witness to death and life in intimate and endlessly renewing ‘events’ of struggle and embrace.

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(Italian, c.17th; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

Life breathes in this painting like a child
pretending not to be awake,

or a skink metamorphosed to a stone
but for the flutter in its flank.

You have to lean and listen for the heart
behind the shining paint,

the lips half-open, and the glittering eye.

Velvet of the night. A ba ...

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